Two years ago, during one of his frequent appointments at University of Missouri Health Care’s Children’s Hospital, Jackson Morton passed the time watching YouTube videos. He came across one of a man trying to program a vintage “Snake” computer game in just 15 minutes.
The crushing headache, the Blood Disorder and Cancer Unit door, the acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis, the chemotherapy treatments that sapped his strength — all the terrifying milestones of his new life — receded in his mind.
Jackson had one focus: He would learn to code a video game.
Now a 15-year-old freshman at Hallsville High School, Jackson has created six games. The most recent, which he completed with a friend, is his favorite. It’s called “Pocket Bandits.”
“It’s a pickpocket game,” he said. “You go up to people on the street and steal certain items in a certain amount of time. We made the art style kind of silly and messy, so it’s a really funny game.”
Jackson is still in the thick of his battle with leukemia, with treatment continuing until the spring of 2020, but he’s planning way ahead. He researched the entrance requirements of the universities with the best computer science programs, and he took his first crack at the ACT college admissions test as an eighth-grader so he will be prepared to post a big score later in his high school career.
“Ever since he was diagnosed, he’s been super positive,” said his mother, Becca Crossgrove. “He’s pretty much kept me going, saying, ‘Mom, everything is going to be good.’ That’s kind of the way he lives his life.”
That positivity endeared Jackson to his Children’s Hospital nurses, who nominated him as the hospital’s 2019 Children’s Miracle Network Champion Child. For a year, he will tell his story and spread the word about the importance of donating to the Children’s Miracle Network, a national organization that raises money for children’s hospitals with the help of corporate partners and local fundraising events.
“All of the money raised through CMN stays local, supporting a variety of needs at our Children’s Hospital,” said Kristen Fritschie, senior coordinator of Children’s Miracle Network for Children’s Hospital. “Some of it is used for life-saving equipment, such as new ambulances, as well as programmatic needs, like Child Life specialists and music therapy equipment.”
Jackson missed the second semester of his seventh-grade year while he underwent intense chemotherapy treatments. When he returned to school in August 2017, he said his friends initially weren’t sure what to say to him. He quickly learned to diffuse the tension with humor and then explain his illness. He is one of the guys again. In fact, he played Benny Southstreet last fall in his school’s production of the musical “Guys and Dolls.” He also competes on the Quiz Bowl team and devotes his free time to creating quirky new video games.
“He’s not one who loves attention, but he’s come into his own since he’s gotten sick, talking to people about what he’s gone through and raising awareness,” his mother said. “He really appreciates that this is the card he was dealt, and he’s going to make the most of it and share his experiences.”